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The Hospital Employees’ Union will opt for straight wage reductions rather than gamble on an arbitration process that would determine which benefits to sacrifice within the total compensation cuts imposed on health care workers by the Campbell Liberals.
Legislation imposing a contract on 43,000 hospital and long-term care workers — Bill 37 — provided health unions with the option of trading across-the-board 11 per cent wage cuts for a combination of wage and benefit cuts to be determined by an arbitrator.
“Our union will not roll the dice and risk our members’ benefits in a process over which they have no control,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt.
“Health care workers fought for decades to win decent medical, dental, and sick leave benefits,” says Allnutt.
“And despite Premier Campbell’s statements to the contrary, our members would have no control over the arbitrator’s decision on which benefits would be reduced or eliminated. Every single benefit would be up for grabs.”
Allnutt says wage and benefit packages should be negotiated at the bargaining table, where health care workers have a democratic voice in all negotiations and are able to vote on the terms of their collective agreement.
“But in this government’s `new era’ of collective bargaining, the only people who got to vote for this contract are the Liberal caucus in Victoria and no real choices are given to those working on health care’s front lines.”
The labour minister rejected a request from HEU to delay this Thursday’s arbitration deadline. The union wanted extra time so that members could decide whether or not to pursue arbitration.
“This government’s track record in undermining workers’ legal rights to have a voice in their terms and conditions of work is unprecedented in Canada,” says Allnutt. “So I’m not surprised that health employers and government have continued to disregard our members’ desire to have a say in how Bill 37’s cuts are handled.”
HEU and its bargaining partners today asked health employers to consider a number of changes to the collective agreement allowed for under the non-arbitration provision contained in Section 3(4) of Bill 37. These proposals
would improve service delivery, protect injured and ill workers and address skills shortages in health care.
Those changes, which were initially rejected by health employers at a meeting earlier this week, include:
- renewed funding for the Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Health Care — an agency that’s saved health budgets $51 million over the last three years;
- extending the monthly supplementary benefit for LTD claimants disabled before 1998; and
- addressing retention and recruitment issues for professional and technical, trades and other workers in high demand occupations.
“We’re doing our best to find solutions to problems facing health care in the context of Bill 37,” says Allnutt. “Health employers should do the same.”
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Contact: Mike Old, communications director, 604-828-6771 (cell)